Annual Letter 1971

3401 Rauschenwasser über Göttingen
Im Bökeler 2
West Germany
November 21, 1971

Dear Friends:
It is cold and blowing outside, the first snow storm of the season, a good day to
write this letter. We have been here in Rauschenwasser since the end of August, a
beautiful small spot located idyllically below the ruin of a medieval castle about
five miles north of Göttingen. Our landlady, who lost her husband in the war, built
this house in the 1950s for her nine children and began filling it up with students
and visiting scholars as her own children moved away. She herself is very much of a
religious pacifist and socialist and her personality gives the whole house, which
she regards as a community, a very definite atmosphere. At present there are German,
French, and Latin American students living here and an interesting Moroccan couple,
both historians of mathematics, just moved away. 

We are very much enjoying Göttingen. We still have many friends here from our
previous stay and visits to Göttingen - even Jonathan does - and enjoy the city
which even now after considerable growth is small enough to be relaxing yet has the
intellectual and cultural advantages of a major university town. We are actually
quite busy, yet after the pressures of Buffalo this seems like a vacation, even if
a working vacation. The last year was particularly busy for all of us. In addition,
Georg also taught a seminar at the University of Rochester in preparation for our
sabbatical and found his load of persons whom he counseled on conscientious
objection and the draft steadily increasing. He is now counseling American CO's in
the military in Germany but the demands on his time are not as large as in Buffalo.
Six days a week, he and Jonathan leave the house at 6:10 in the morning to meet the
school bus in Göttingen which takes Jonathan to his school in Kassel. Georg then
drinks coffee in town and reads until the library opens and then has a fairly
uninterrupted day to do his research. Wilma partly works at home, partly in town and
finds the demands of the household cutting into her time for reading and study.
That's what you call women's lib. Jonathan has made a surprisingly smooth adjustment
to the Freie Waldorf-Schule in Kassel. He is relearning German rapidly, now is
beginning to understand well what goes on, and seems to feel fairly much at home in
his school. Four days a week he is back in Göttingen by 2 p.m. but on Tuesdays and
Fridays, he has school until 6 p.m. and then has to take the train back.
Daniel came with us in August and then went back in time for the beginning of school
This past year he was a freshman at Canisius but also took some freshman seminars
at SUNY/Buffalo and now is a second year student in political science at York
University in Toronto. Jeremy is back at Carleton College for his junior year as a
philosophy major. He spent the Spring term with a group of Carleton students at the
University of Caen in Normandy, then in July instead of returning straight home to
the United States joined two other young people who were driving across Asia. He
left the group in West Pakistan, proceeded by train through India to Nepal, and then
made his way back via Bangkok, Hongkong, and Japan where he spent two weeks wit
friends in Kyoto. We unfortunately did not get to see him this way but we received
a large number of extremely interesting letters from him with his impressions
particularly of India, Thailand, and Japan. 

It is interesting now to compare our impressions of Germany with those which we
gathered when we last spent a year in Göttingen ten years ago. Then, in May 1961,
we arrived at the time the Eichmann trial started in Jerusalem and intensified the
reexamination of the past here in Germany. Even then we were optimistic about the
future of German democracy even if guardedly so although many traditional thought
patterns which disturbed us persisted.
The changes are striking. A generation is now beginning to take over the positions
of responsibility which had not yet grown to maturity when the Nazi regime collapsed
An even younger generation has now grown to maturity which had not even been born in
1945. The result has been a marked democratization of political attitudes and more
slowly of the social structure as well. The young people seem very similar to their
counterparts in the U.S. in their attitudes and values, and appearance. Having grown
up in a society of economic affluence, they look critically at the irrational
aspects of this society. The rejection of the military and of arbitrary authority is
even more pronounced than in the U.S. and the proportion of young men applying for
conscientious objector status considerably higher even without the Viet Nam war.
The apathetic atmosphere among the students ten years ago has been replaced by a
high degree of political consciousness. At last under student pressure, the various
state governments have carried through long needed reforms of the university. The
atmosphere in seminars has changed with greater openness in discussion between
students and professors. Ten years ago we were struck how many Germans, including
Social Democrats, were willing to admit Germany's responsibility for the crimes of
the past, yet unwilling to recognize the consequences which resulted from these
crimes, such as the division of Germany and the loss of the Eastern territories.
Today these issues raise emotions to a much lesser extent and a majority of Germans
appear to support Willy Brandt in his attempt to normalize relations with the East. Not all is necessarily well in Germany. Many of the problems of a consumer oriented highly technological society which have troubled the US have also been apparent here although perhaps less severely, pollution, rising crime, narcotics, etc., although West German society seems to be much less coming apart at the seams than ours and fascistoid attitudes less common in this country which has experienced fascism. The Neo-Nazis have collapsed but the Christian Democratic Party, now in opposition, has moved sharply to the right and in parliament and in the mass press is appealing to nationalist sentiment and red baiting. On the left the radical anti-authoritarian organizations of the late '60's have given way on the campus to the highly authoritarian, East German oriented Spartakus. The Bremen state elections last month which resulted in an absolute majority for the Social Democrats, revealed quite clearly that a very large number of Germans repudiate both the nationalism and the anti-studentism of the right (the Christian Democrats had fought the elections on the issues of the treaties with Poland and Russia recognizing the Oder-Neisse line and of university reform) and the authoritarianism of the German Communist Party which for the first time entered the election. 

As far as our work is concerned, Wilma has been catching up on her reading until now
and is ready to start on her project on Jewish literature in Bohemia. Georg is
working on a comparative study of trends in contemporary historical science. In this
connection we have already have had an opportunity to go to France where in addition
to speaking with historians we also saw many old friends again and later this week
on the invitation of Polish historians shall go to Poznan, Cracow, and Warsaw.
Georg's book on German historiography appeared in paperback in Germany shortly
before we arrived here and has led to a fair amount of discussion here. It is a
critique of traditional establishment way of writing history here from which the
younger generation of historians is now, however, rapidly moving away. 

We would like again to thank those of you who wrote letters in support of Daniel's
CO application. We believe that he has a very strong case. His application was
turned down, however, without his being invited to a pre-classification interview.
He has asked for a personal appearance with his draft board but under the new
regulations will not have it until he has received his lottery number next year. 

We shall be back in Buffalo on August 16. With the best wishes for the holiday
season and a more peaceful and humane 1972, the Iggers

Dec. 10, 1971. We are back from Poland. The trip was very interesting and the
hospitality wonderful. In many ways the country was very different from what we
had expected in terms of our readings and very different from Czechoslovakia and
East Germany. 

We arrived in Poznan by train from Berlin on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 28. Prof.
Topolski, our host, met us at the station and took us to his home where we were
served a fantastic meal and later an equally excellent supper. Polish gastronomy
is first rate anyway, we discovered. Prof. Topolski, in his early forties, is a
leading member of a very interesting group of Polish economic and social
historians and perhaps the most important theoretician and methodologist of
history in Poland. His wife, too, is a historian. He talked with me extensively
about his efforts and those of his colleagues to revise the positivistic and
deterministic interpretations of Marx which have plagued Marxist thought in the
past. The conclusions about the methodology of Marx in Das Kapital which he
expressed in various articles he showed me were remarkably similar to the
interpretation which I had presented in a lecture in West Berlin the previous
Friday and which had been sharply critized by some of the orthodox Marxist
students there. Before very long it was time to take the night train to Cracow
for the annual business meeting of the Polish Historical Association. 

I did not attend any of the sessions in Cracow since these were all in Polish but
Prof. Topolski had suggested that this would be a good place to meet Polish
historians and so it was. Wilma and Jonathan went to Auschwitz for the day, about
40 minutes from Cracow. I spent most of the morning walking through the city with
one of the historians from Cracow, talking about Polish historiography but also
about conditions generally. Cracow, the medieval capital of Poland almost
unscathed by the war, is one immense museum. I was interested in the street scene
which seemed much less proletarianized than in the Czech or East German cities we
know. There are few automobiles, but otherwise an outward air of prosperity.
People are well dressed, there seems to be no shortage of food, and the shop
windows, already decorated for Christmas, are full of commodities. I was struck by
the number of elegant cafes. In the cafe at the old market square renovated in the
Jugendstil of the turn of the century one saw a public and felt an atmosphere
which reminded much more of the Austria of Franz Joseph, of which Cracow once was
a part, than any cafe in present day Vienna. The prosperity may, however, be
misleading. As my guide pointed out, housing is still extremely scarce and the
prices of textiles and consumers goods are quite high in relation to the wages.
As in East Germany and much more so than in Czechoslovakia there is a wide span in
incomes. The intellectual constitute very much of a privileged class. While some
workers earn as little as 1,500 zlotys, many of the professors earn 6,000 or more
a month. The latter can generally afford an automobile, often weekend cottages,
trips abroad and maids, the former even with both husbands and wives working - as
generally is the case - only a modest existence. Poverty, which afflicted pre-war
Poland, seems to have virtualy disappeared, however. Every day life seems much
more normal than in Czechoslovakia and working morale, at least since the reforms
which followed last winter's unrests, much higher. 

In Cracow, as in Poznan and Warsaw, but perhaps even more so in Cracow, one is
very aware of the links with the past, There is little on the surface to remind
one in Cracow that one is in a communist country but one is constantly aware of
being in a Catholic country. There are nuns, churches -- incidentally well
attended on Sundays by young as well as old -- and religious bookstores. In Poznan
and Warsaw the attempt has been made successfully to rebuild the old sections
which were destroyed during the war stone by stone and to recapture the atmosphere
of medieval Poland. There is an intense consciousness of the national past, hence
also very much historical work and excellent historical museums. In no country in
Europe in the seventeenth, eighteenth and even under partition in the nineteenth
century did the nobility play as central a role in life and thought style of the
cultured Polish nobility has maintained itself in Polish public consciousness
until today. Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon we were taken by Polish
colleagues to restaurants which cannot be matched in Buffalo. In talking with
Polish historians, the strong continuities with the pre-war past, not only as
regards historical scholarship but also the composition of the historical
profession became apparent. In contrast to East Germany, where the historians
represent parts of a new elite of whom the older ones have been often old-time
activists persecuted by the Nazis and the younger ones often have come from
working class backgrounds, many of the Polish historians come from old scholarly
families. They live well but free of the nouveau riche manners of many of their
East German colleagues. They are also much more cosmopolitan. The close scholarly
ties with France, and to a lesser extent with the U.S., continue. There was no
purge of "bourgeois" historians comparable to what occured in other Communist
countries. Topolski and others were trained after the war by historians like
Bujak and Rutkowski who before the war laid the foundations for modern Polish
social history. Since 1956 research has been quite free of Marxism in its
dogmatic form.
Some highly interesting and original work is being done by Polish social
historians using highly modern methods and collaborating closely with the social
science oriented historians of the Paris Annales circle. Indeed many of the
historians I spoke with had been in residence as students or visiting scholars in
Paris.

Tuesday morning we were taken on a tour of Wawel, the residence of the Polish
kings with its museums. Tuesday afternoon we returned to Poznan by train with a
group of professors. Wednesday Prof. Topolski took us on a ride through the Polish
countryside around Poznan. There was less mechanization than in the West but the
farms, almost all privately owned, seemed prosperous. Tuesday evening we went to
the Opera. The opera, Offenbach's Orpheus in the underworld, was fun - even if I
did not understand the Polish -- and well done. It was interesting to watch the
audience which was much more democratic than in the West - many persons who were
obviously workers, students, soldiers, etc. The seats were amazingly inexpensive.
Thursday I spent most of the day at the university, visiting the history
department and library, talking with students, sitting in on a class Prof.
Topolski teaches in English for the American exchange students. Poznan has a two
way exchange program with the University of Kansas. Many of the American students
are graduates from Catholic high schools, most of them of Polish descent,
including a nun from Buffalo. In the evening I gave my lecture, on trends in most
recent German historiography. The atmosphere at the discussion was much less
ideologically charged than in West Berlin. Over dinner a group of us then
continued the discussion until about midnight. 

At 5:40 Friday morning, Prof. Topolski and I took the train to Warsaw. Wilma and
Jonathan followed later. Prof. Wyczanski met us at the station and then took me
on a tour of Warsaw. Warsaw had been almost totally destroyed by the Nazis after
the 1944 uprising. Miles and miles of new building along broad avenues have been
erected, some in the somewhat grotesque style of the Stalin period, much among
more modern lines. Warsaw makes an elegant impression. We then drove to the
monument for the dead of the Jewish Ghetto, an impressive monument to the martyrs
in Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew inscription. This was in sharp contrast to
Auschwitz where Wilma told me almost all the commemorative tablets contained
Polish names and there was almost no mention or the fact that the vast majority
of those murdered were Jews. Jewish life in a country, where once more than three
million Jews lived, has disappeared with almost no trace, even more completely
than in West Germany or in Czechoslovakia where a very conscious effort has been
made to keep alive the memory of Jewish culture. Prof. Wyczanski stressed that it
is impossible to study Polish history without considering the role of the Jews
and that yet today there are virtually no Polish scholars who know Yiddish or
have an understanding of Jewish traditions. Of the 30,000 Jews who still remained
in Poland in 1968, many left after the anti-Semitic acts by the government which
accompanied the repression of the student unrest of the year. From the Ghetto we
drove to the beautifully reconstructed old city and the Institute of History of
the Academy of Sciences. Here I spent the rest of the morning talking with
Wyczanski, who is one of the very interesting Polish historians who have worked
closely with the Paris Annales school, about his work. I then had an opportunity
to talk briefly with some of the students at the English and American Studies
institute of the University. It was much easier linguistically, of course, to
communicate with these students than with those in Poznan. Nevertheless a very
similar picture emerged. As in Czechoslovakia, the students are surprisingly well
informed and have been little effected by the indoctrination of the school system
They are very critical of the university system, which they consider antiquated
and unimaginative, too much lecturing, too few discussions, are very critical of
the governmental restrictions of free expression, and critical of the government's
economic policies, although the gap between the students and the government has
probably narrowed since the workers' riots last winter toppled Gomulka. To us it
appears that they too uncritically admire the life style of the West. Nevertheless
one does not have the same feeling of the total alienation of students and
intellectuals from the state as in Czechoslovakia. There is a strong feeling of
Polish national consciousness which seems to hold the country together, a
consciousness deeply rooted in the past. 

In the evening we were at the Wyczanskis. Jonathan enjoyed himself talking with
their twenty year old son, who speaks English fairly well, a university student
who managed to convince the government that he is a conscientious objector --
something extremely difficult in Poland -- and is doing some sort of alternate
service. Wilma got into a long conversation with their fourteen year old son in a
mixture of Czech and Polish. Wilma managed to learn quite a bit of Polish before
our trip -- there are many similarities between Polish and Czech -- and to make
herself quite well understood in Poland. Saturday morning Mrs. Wyczanski picked up
Wilma and Jonathan and Wilma in this way was able to get some insight into Polish
everyday life. I went back to the Institute to continue my conversations. I had
had a very informative conversation on Friday afternoon with Prof. Ryzska, one of
the leading Polish scholars of modern Germany, and om Saturday Prof. Grabski, a
leading Polish historiographer, came from Lodz to see me. All of this was very
helpful and revealed a historical profession and scholarship which is open,
undogmatic, and critical. 

We had planned to take the night train from Warsaw to Berlin. The Topolskis,
however, urged us to stop in Poznan for a party that evening. I am glad we did.
There were about twenty-five people there to celebrate Mrs. Topolski's nameday,
many of these people non-university people, although all fairly much persons in
positions of responsibility. I wish we had had more opportunity to talk with
workers. Wilma did on the train from Poznan to Warsaw when she interpreted between
a French communist who praised the regime to the sky and the Polish passengers who
were very critical. The discussion at the party, like all discussions we had in
Poland, was very free. All the persons there, including the secretary of the union
at the university (presumably therefore a party functionary) stressed the need for
political liberalization and more pragmatic economic planning. There was a
complaint about what one person called unemployment in Poland - everyone gets a
job but often busywork because for many skilled people there are no jobs open in
which they can use their skill. People seemed to enjoy themselves as at few
American parties. There were folk songs, songs parodying Russian songs and making
fun of the Russian communist [unklar was er hier meint] excellent food and drink. We had a long talk with a chemist, trained in the Soviet Union, who still often travels to scientific institutes there, and who incidentally has also worked in Canada, who said that while the general atmosphere was much more conservative in the Soviet Union than in Poland, even there many of the younger scientists are very undogmatic in their outlook and speak of the need of greater liberalization. 

We left on Sunday for West Berlin with many impressions, often superficial, which
we find it difficult to integrate into a coherent picture. Nevertheless we had the
feeling that Poland is a country very much alive. The years since l945 have seen
the virtual disappearance of poverty and many social inequalities. We were
impressed by the tremendous reconstruction of a devastated country without the
basis of industrial capacity and skill which Germany had. The year 1968 with its
governmentally sponsored anti-intellectualism and anti-Semitism again clearly
demonstrated the limits of freedom in Poland. On the other hand, Polish thought
and much of Polish life has developed relatively independently of governmental
intervention. The years since 1956 have been extreme creative years in Polish
culture and scholarship. Polish history appears to have been more powerful than
any political doctrines or parties. This has probably had both its good and its
bad sides. A class system seems to reassert itself which has many similarities
with the past. On the other hand, the creative sources of Polish culture remain
very much intact. 

We arrived in West Berlin shortly after the police had broken up with tear gas a
demonstration protesting the death the night before of a militant anarchist in
what the police described as a shoot out. From this morning's newspaper, however,
it appears that the anarchist was unarmed and that there was no shoot out. 

Please don't be surprised at the US stamp on the envelope. We are sending this
letter to Buffalo for distribution.